Fire Kid Rock, Not Alissa Heinerscheid

Brands have paid attention to the abundance of research demonstrating how beneficial it can be to adopt pro-social causes that matter to their customers. Prominent among these is the DEI movement (diversity, equality, and inclusion) which is particularly important to Generation Z.

Along comes a new VP of Marketing for Bud Light, a huge, beloved brand that’s struggled for relevance over the past several years as more and more young people favor hard seltzers and mixed drinks over beer. In an effort to regain consideration from this critical younger cohort, the new VP, Alissa Heinerscheid, or someone on her team (most likely with the support of an array of marketing agencies and in-house managers), decides to reach out to an important trans influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, to celebrate her one-year anniversary of transitioning. The Bud Light Team sends a single Bud Light can customized with Mulvaney’s image, which she posts on her social media. Chaos ensues.

I have written about the perils of cause marketing in a divided nation, but the path forward here should be clear: There should be no second-guessing or defensiveness on the part of Anheuser-Busch or anyone else for doing the right thing.

To me, the right thing would start with a brief statement that would go something like this:

“We at Anheuser-Busch are committed to the rights of all people and the values of freedom. We are proud that our beers are enjoyed by all kinds of people, everywhere across our country and the world. We regret that some Bud Light drinkers have responded to a single, well-meaning post on LinkedIn with vitriol and threats of violence.”

Rather, A-B’s CEO and the company issued tepid statements that managed to annoy just about everyone on every side of the issue. Nowhere did they address the issue directly.

One of those statements informed us that Alissa and her boss, Dylan Blake, were put on (involuntary) leave by the company in order to “(make) adjustments to streamline the structure of our marketing function to reduce layers so that our most senior marketers are more closely connected to every aspect of our brands’ activities.”

Hmmm. These were senior marketers. Are we to believe that A-B now requires explicit, written approval from the CEO before reaching out to any non-white male target?

To be totally transparent, I have worked with A-B on Bud Light and most of their other beer brands in the past, though I have yet to meet Alissa.

I believe Anheuser-Busch means well. The company has made outsized efforts to help communities all over the world, including sustainability efforts, converting beer plants to produce canned water for victims of natural disasters, helping veterans and a host of others.

Why they are acting like a deer in the headlights on this issue is beyond me. I believe they should have stood by their people and condemned the hateful, violent responses in no uncertain terms.

Take a moment to visit the DEI video on A-B’s website. I wonder how reaching out to a young, trans influencer with 10.8 million followers on TikTok and 1.8 million on Instagram is some kind of marketing or HR violation. The company could not be more on the record regarding these issues, yet Heinerscheid and Blake are ostracized for essentially doing the company’s bidding.

Moreover, according to an article in the New York Times, some on the right condemned Heinerscheid’s comments that Bud Light marketing must be transformed from “fratty, sort of out-of-touch humor” “and that the company would need to be more inclusive for its demographic to grow.” The piece went on to say that “as the podcast quotes circulated, The Daily Caller, The New York Post and The Daily Mail published photos of Ms. Heinerscheid at a party in college in 2006.”

A much-needed marketing insight and photos from college of Heinerscheid at a party where beer was being consumed (gasp!) should not be reasons to discipline or fire her or anyone else.

Just as this was all unfolding, we saw several innocent people shot and some killed by gun violence for the crimes of knocking on the wrong door, turning around in the wrong driveway, and trying to get into the wrong car. Is it helpful for Kid Rock to be cursing, flipping the finger to Anheuser Busch and shooting at Bud Light cans with an assault weapon when Americans, right wing zealots in particular, are getting trigger happy?

Nike and many other brands have withstood major social controversies. Their integrity is intact, and their businesses have suffered no major consequences. Indeed, Bud Light sales are down double-digits in red states, but A-B’s stock price has not suffered. This negative bump shall pass as people revert to old habits and a new controversy du jour arises to take its place.

What brands, need to take seriously, as do all Americans for that matter, is hate speech and violence. This shouldn’t be a controversy in the first place, but what triggered it was not the good intentions on the part of Bud Light and its corporate managers, but an outsized, bigoted reaction from the fringe. We must be conscious of that bigotry and do our best to eliminate it. But we should never respond directly. Kid Rock’s ignorance, sadism, insecurity, and venom speak for themselves. Anheuser-Busch, Alissa Heinerscheid and Dylan Blake should hold their heads high. They have nothing to apologize for. It’s Kid Rock who should be placed on indefinite leave from American culture.



No Comments

Post A Comment

Pin It on Pinterest